Naas, Widen I-77 on Monday night Town Board agenda

Naas, Widen I-77 on official Monday night Town Board agenda

Mac McAlpine gathered business leaders, race teams, politicians and the media to discuss the economic toll of toll lanes

You might call it a sea change—a broad transformation—that is under way at the upper levels of Cornelius power: Kurt Naas and the Widen I-77 lawsuit against the toll lanes is now on the agenda for discussion at Monday night’s Town Board meeting.

Naas will have 30 minutes to outline the suit which seeks to stop the Public Private Partnership which will build nearly 30 miles of toll lanes between Lake Norman and Charlotte.

And last night Cornelius resident John “Mac” McAlpine very nearly stunned an audience of 150 business leaders with a cogent outline of how toll lanes would not just add congestion to local roads, but cost the local economy some $13 billion over the life of the 50-year deal. To download the PDF of McAlpine’s presentation, click here.

Mayor Chuck Travis, who has steadfastly supported the toll lane plan as the best and soonest way to reduce congestion on I-77, could not be reached for comment.

What will happen on Monday night is anybody’s guess, but the fact that Naas and the lawsuit are on the agenda is startling. Naas and his vocal Widen I-77 supporters have been demonized by the powers that be since Naas began fighting the toll plan more than two years ago.

Of course there are exceptions, including Commissioner Dave Gilroy who has voted against supporting the toll plan since its inception. The entire board in May, however, voted for a “time-out” on the toll plan in May.

The NCDOT  sped up their plans and signed the 50-year contract with Cintra ahead of schedule, adding fuel to what’s become a four-alarm fire of negative public—and business—opinion.

Online opinion polls conducted by and indicated that 98 percent of our respondents did not believe NCDOT operates “with transparency, integrity and in the best interest of our citizens.”

NCDOT spokesman Warren Cooksey responded by asking this question: “What is the margin of error of the poll to which you refer?”

As far as Monday night is concerned, there are essentially three possible outcomes:

  • The Town Board could offer moral support to Naas, and file an amicus brief.
  • The Town could help fund the lawsuit.
  • The Town could join the lawsuit.
  • The Town could file their own lawsuit.

Town Attorney Bill Brown did not return a phone call prior to posting this story.

Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam, who has “never voted for tolls and I don’t plan to,” said the Widen I-77 presentation on Monday night will be important, but at this point it is only informational.

Speaking at the “Emergency Call to Action” for Lake Norman business owners Thursday night, UNC-Charlotte Professor Emeritus David Hartgen said plans to widen I-77 with tolls will have dire effects on traffic both on and around 77.

“Your local streets are going to be crammed full. The congestion on the feeder roads and the parallel roads are going to go way up,” said Hartgen. “This is a recipe for disaster.”

The meeting was organized by McAlpine, the director of electronics at Michael Waltrip Raceworld. McAlpine said the debate at this point “isn’t about the tolls, it’s about our economic forecast.”

Meanwhile, NC Sen. Jeff Tarte and NC Rep. John Bradford say there is a possibility that legislation could put the brakes on funding for the toll lanes. They said doing so would require clear, solid support from the business community.

“New businesses will not be compelled to locate here,” he said. “Old businesses will gradually disappear.”

Sources said the Lake Norman Chamber will soon get on board with McAlpine and legislative efforts to halt the toll lane project, and, instead widen I-77 with general purpose lanes.

“If we have enough support from the business community, we can try to defund the express lanes and try to include monies in the NC Connect bonds,” said Sen. Jeff Tarte.

Bill Russell, CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber, said the business group has “always stressed that improvements to I77 are critical to the overall business growth, economic development, and quality of life of our lake region.”

“Until the meeting at Michael Waltrip Racing, there has only been one potential funding mechanism for the widening of I77 from NC DOT and our elected leadership, and that was by means of HOT Lanes. Our Chamber policy has always been predicated on the option of a P3 Partnership and HOT lanes or no improvement at all. I think this new information, and the feedback provided by our members, will allow our Board of Directors to discuss the issue and arrive at a policy position which bests represents our chamber members. Until then, we will continue to gather opinions, examine the information we have available, and discuss this issue with our members,” he said in an email.

The NCDOT has issued its own statement on the “Emergency Call to Action” at Waltrip Raceworld.


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